(Dong Kralor is the border crossing into Cambodia, and given that we spent a significant amount of time there, waiting, I think this is the most appropriate place name for this installment)
Getting from Laos to Cambodia is easy. You just purchase a ticket to Kratie, the first larger town down the Mekong in Cambodia, in Don Khone, $15, no big deal. The price includes boat transfer to the main land, a VIP bus from the boat landing directly to Kratie, without the need to change anywhere, and guide services to help with departure from Laos and with Cambodian customs. A piece of cake, really!
Right! The boat transfer worked well, we left on time, and connected effortlessly with the bus. Which left half an hour late, and not with 15 but with 50 passengers – all foreigners; indeed, a common communication issue here, but it meant that a few people had no seats, and where standing in the isle. Only for all of us to be dropped at the border 15 minutes later: end of the line, as far as this bus was concerned. All luggage offloaded, slugged to Laos customs, “you must pay 2 dollars now”, get a stamp, slug luggage to Cambodian health desk, “you must pay 1 dollar now”, then to Cambodian customs, “you must pay 2 dollars now”. No sign of support from a guide here! So I asked what was this for, “ah, stamping fee”, then asked for a receipt and suggested that if I didn´t get one I would take a photo of the gentlemen in question, and send this together with my complaint to the embassy, or ministry, or whatever. The guy looked at me, for a while, and then just gave me my money back! It is all a big scam, they just ask whatever they want.
Incidentally, the Laos side is building a huge border crossing station, to replace the little shack they use at the moment. A huge white elephant, obviously, to handle the two busses per day that show up – unless they include restaurants and coffee bars for the waiting crowds. Waiting for the connecting bus into Cambodia, that is, because the timing of this is less than ideal, at present. There was no bus. The waiting area now consists of a number of small stalls outside selling drinks, coconuts and instant noodles. Everything 1 dollar – this is clearly a dollar economy, forget about kip, or its Cambodian equivalent, the riel. Not surprisingly, the area around the stalls is one big garbage dump, interspersed with ad-hoc traces of used toilet sites.
(1) The current customs office on the Lao side, (2) a busload of foreigners, literally, and (3) the White Elephant under construction.
(4) Customs official on the Cambodian side.
At a certain stage a bus did turn up, very comfortable, good seats, air-conditioning, but obviously too small for the horde of tourists. So nothing happened, for two hours, because nobody could take a decision; yet this cannot be the first time that they sell too many tickets. Two or three minibuses then appeared, and it was declared that those for Kratie, the nearest stop – many passengers continued to Phnom Penh and other locations -, had to leave the big, comfy bus and squeeze into the minivan. These are 8-seaters, but in this part of the world hold at least 10 passengers, plus copious quantities of luggage, which is perhaps just OK for the smaller-built Asians, but big fat white Caucasians, that’s another story. Let me just tell you that we had a very uncomfortable two hours to Kratie, which was not exactly compensated by the Karaoke screen and music, in Cambodian, or Thai, altogether unintelligible for the foreigner-only crowd in the van. But at least we were not as uncomfortable as the people we met later that day, who had not managed to get into the minivans, and were forced to stand in the isle all the way from the border. As I said, it is all a big scam.
But we got to Kratie, in the end, we managed to find the only bottle of gin for sale in the whole town, and we enjoyed the sunset from the boulevard in front of our hotel.
(5) Has anybody been counting the number of sunset photos in this blog? This is the Mekong in Kratie.